PANGKALAN BUN, MALAYSIA - Recovery teams expanded their search in the Java Sea as they raced to find bodies and wreckage from Indonesia AirAsia Flight QZ8501, which authorities fear have drifted in rough weather that has hampered operations over the past week.
As the massive recovery effort entered its ninth day, officials were still hoping for a break in poor conditions to send divers down to the area where large parts of the crashed Airbus A320-200 have been found.
Only 37 bodies have been recovered so far from the disaster scene and there is no sign yet of the "black box" flight data recorders, which are key to determining the cause of the Dec 28 incident.
Search and rescue agency chief Bambang Soelistyo said three more bodies from the crash were recovered yesterday , but only two advance divers had been able to go down to the wreckage off the island of Borneo. Five large parts of the plane, including the suspected tail, have so far been located.
"The current was strong. So (most of) the divers are still on standby," Soelistyo told reporters.
The search, assisted by several countries including the United States and Russia, has been trying to expand eastwards on suspicions that strong currents have caused parts of the plane to drift.
Earlier in the day several aircraft made their way from this town in Borneo with the nearest airstrip to the wreckage, to scour the sea's surface. Speedboats were sweeping the coastline to look for any bodies that may have drifted ashore.
Search and rescue official S.B. Supriyadi said the search teams were assessing whether to lift the discovered plane parts off the seabed in an effort to find the flight data recorders.
"We hope to find the black boxes as soon as possible," he said.
"If the tail is upside down and the door to the black box is in the mud, we need to dig the seafloor and that would be difficult. We are hoping that the door to the black box is facing upwards."
The report by BMKG into the likely cause of the crash referred to infra-red satellite pictures that showed the plane was passing through clouds with top temperatures of -80 to -85°Celsius.
But it remained unclear why other planes on similar routes were unaffected by the weather, and other analysts said there was not enough information to explain the disaster until the flight recorders were recovered.
The operation has prioritised finding the bodies of the victims. Some of the bodies have been found still strapped into their seats.